Anxiety, Control, Idolatry, Insecurity, Obedience, Pride, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Unbelief, Uncategorized

Chokehold

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”  Mark 10:21

One Sunday morning in October I saw a young girl with her dad walking toward the Children’s Museum in our small, New England town.  The legs of a stuffed Pooh Bear dangled beneath her right arm, his head peeking over the top of her chokehold.  All three crossed the street together.  The little girl’s left hand was securely tucked into her father’s right as she trotted to keep up with his pace.  My first impression was of the sweet picture this portrayed of our daily walk with Jesus; our secure, surrendered life of following Him.  My second thought concerned the Pooh Bear.   This little girl wasn’t content just holding daddy’s hand as she followed.  She needed Pooh to make her feel secure.

Of course,  I have one or two Pooh Bears under my arm of control for security too.  While I know in my mind that Jesus is enough there is a tendency to cling to other things while trying to follow Jesus.  “Pooh Bears” like savings, good health, ministry and family make me feel safe and secure.  However, anxiety rushes into my heart whenever I fear they may be slipping away.  My grip tightening with every anxious thought, I hold on to what I perceive as essential for my security by its furry little neck.  This happened a couple of weeks ago when we received a large but expected bill.  Emotionally spinning because it was outside my comfort zone of spending, my mind started flipping from asking, “What were we thinking!”  to “Why is this service so expensive!”   My Pooh Bear (savings) was in danger!

This incident was so revealing because I didn’t even know I had a chokehold in this area.  It took a few days of unpacking for God to reveal the content of my heart.  Using the key of confession (I’m sorry Lord that I don’t trust You to take care of me and believe I have to protect myself) and repentance (I choose to believe You over my feelings of insecurity, accepting Your forgiveness and choosing to walk in the truth that You will never leave me or forsake me and You have given me everything for life and Godliness) God opens the door freedom.   When I choose to look up and see that my Father has my hand and will never let me go there is an overwhelming sense of peace and security.  My  Pooh Bears, I realize, are only gifts to enjoy.  Like a carrot in the hand of a child feeding a horse they are meant to be held with an open palm lest my fingers get nipped.  His love enables the open hand.

In addition, although there are times when I am totally surrendered, walking in lock-step with God’s glorious pace, admittedly there are also times when I do insist that Jesus “follow me.”   Instead of holding other things in my grip for security I try to get hold of Jesus ’round the neck and choke out the sound of His voice, refusing to surrender to His life in me.  The result is mental chaos and feelings of isolation.  No longer walking in The Light I grope around in emotional darkness.  Insisting on my way while stumbling across the dangerous terrain of rebellion until He brings me to the end of myself.    Here, again at the altar of confession and repentance,  He restores my soul while I allow Him to wash my feet, getting me ready to follow HIM once again.

So, whether the sin revealed is idolatry or rebellion He is waiting to heal every dark place.  The key is recognizing when you are stuffed with other things or getting ahead of Him.  How can we know?  The answer is in Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”

If you ask Him He will search your heart, revealing any unclean thing and, with His righteous right hand holding yours, lead you in the everlasting way. His path is straight.  We can follow Him with confidence, joy and peace, trotting all the way to Heaven with His good gifts held loosely in open hands of praise. \O/

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  John 8:12

Covenant, Idolatry, Life, Reverence, Uncategorized

Due Reverence

“A son honors his father and a servant his master.  Then if I am a father, where is My honor?  And if I am a master, where is My respect?  says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise my name.  But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?'”  Malachi 1:6

Reverence is akin to “The fear of the Lord ” which Tim Keller likens to the feeling you get in the company of someone you greatly admire, perhaps even someone famous.  In their presence you are respectful, careful about what you say, give deference to them and want to please them as you’re able.  There is, in fact, a sense of awe.  Reverence means honor or respect that is felt or shown to someone or something. If anyone deserves to be honored or respected it’s God.  But, in Malachi’s day God was dishonored and disrespected by the very priests who were to exemplify reverence for the LORD.  They defiled His name by offering blemished animals, divorced their wives and married foreign women who worshipped other gods, robbed the Lord by not tithing and believed God was unloving and unjust.

The priest’s apathetic hearts were in stark contrast to Levi’s, their reverent ancestor. Malachi 2 tells us that God made a covenant with Levi “of life and peace as an object of reverence.”

“My covenant with him [Levi] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 2:5-8

As New Testament believers we are also God’s messengers and priests (1 Peter 2:5-9).   Nevertheless, like the priests of old, we have a tendency toward irreverence if we don’t take time to know God in a way that provokes esteem.    A good illustration of this is and encounter my husband, Marty, and I had with a famous football player while on vacation at Disney World.  Marty recognized the former Dallas Cowboy in the waiting area of Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

“That’s Daryl Johnston,” he whispered, referring to a tall man across the room.

“Who?” I asked, looking up only to see a dad with his family.

“The ‘Moose’, Daryl Johnston.  The football player.”

“Oh. nice.” I said, unimpressed.

To me the man was just another dad in the crowd.  Were we seeing the same person?  Yes!  However, the difference was Marty’s familiarity with Johnston.  My husband was impressed with the athlete in our midst because he knew who Daryl Johnston was and what he had accomplished. He was impressive.  I, on the other hand, knew nothing about the “Moose” therefore, seeing him did not provoke admiration.  Similarly, to know God inspires reverence.  When we read God’s word and spend time meditating on His attributes we begin to know God.  Then, we are compelled to say, “That is the LORD!”

Unfortunately, the Israelites in Malachi’s time suffered from a case of severe apathy toward God.  They judged God based on their limited knowledge instead of by His “stats” revealed in His Word.  In other words, He was “just another dad.”  But, Malachi’s wake up call to Israel is haunting.  It indicts my own heart when God asks, “Where is My honor?”  Am I apathetic and irreverent too?   Does my behavior reflect unbelief?   I may not be divorcing my spouse and worshiping idols but I certainly have not been bringing my first fruits to my LORD in regards to time.  Oh, my LORD and my Redeemer!  Thank you for your mercy and everlasting covenant of life and peace.  May I never forsake the reading of your Word lest I defile Your Holy name!

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name.”  Malachi 3:16

Commitment, Covenant, Faith, Hope, Idolatry, Submission, Surrender, Uncategorized

In Christ Alone

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2

Arriving at the car rental queue at the Baltimore airport we frowned at the long line but patiently waited the forty-five minutes it took to get to the counter. (I should rightly say my husband, Marty, waited patiently while I sat in a comfy seat watching the luggage.) Understandably tired and prickly, the agent checked us in and ten minutes later we were on the freeway driving to our hotel, excited for the fun few days ahead. However, after just a few miles, the rental car rumbled and lost power.  Surprised by the strange noise and loss of acceleration Marty heeded the warning on the dashboard imploring us to “See Owner’s Manual” and pulled the car over into the breakdown lane. Unfortunately, there was no owner’s manual in the glove compartment.

“The transmission slipped,” Marty said, puzzled as he turned off the motor.  After a few minutes he started the car again and took off. This time it seemed to drive okay and we made it to our hotel. Sadly, the next day the same thing happened on our way to breakfast. Because of this, we arranged to have the vehicle exchanged, which we knew would be time-consuming, inconvenient but necessary.  The wonderful thing is neither of us let it steal our joy. There was peace “like a river” because we had our eyes set on the prize. We were there to enjoy watching our son play baseball.  And, because the hotel was next to the ball field, there was no disappointment when the car didn’t work properly because it had no bearing on our ability to enjoy the games. Also, we didn’t care that the car was a hassle because we weren’t focused on the car!  We ended up having a wonderful trip and made it back to the airport without a hitch or rumble.

In the same way, God tells us to focus on the prize (Christ Himself forevermore) and not on our circumstances. We will all eventually arrive at our final destination with joy if we keep our eyes on Jesus. Unless, of course, He isn’t your prize. What are you living for? What do you hope for your future?  Are you trusting God, hoping in Christ alone, or are your eyes stuck on what is lacking? If your hope is in a changed spouse, good health, a new house, perfectly behaved children or a larger paycheck instead of Christ Himself then you are not placing your Hope in Christ alone. You are metaphorically focused on the rental car that doesn’t work and the hassle you are forced to go through because of it, never mind that it’s the very vehicle that God chose to use to get you to the final destination.

The song In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty begins with a bold statement describing our firm foundation and the peace we have in Christ when He is our rock.

“In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song; this Cornerstone, this solid Ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.  What heights of love, what depths of peace,  when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!  My Comforter, my All in All, here in the love of Christ I stand.”  

Looking up we see our eternal future and nothing this side of heaven can steal our joy.   In contrast, if my focus is, for example, on my child’s success or failure and how it may reflect on me then my hope is on unstable ground. In this case my song would be more like this;

“In my child alone my hope is found,  He is my light, my strength, my song;  this little me, gives identity, changing with every up and down.  What heights of pride, what depths of shame, when fear and striving never cease! My tormentors, my all in all, here in insecurity I stand.”

This is not the kind of theme song I want to define the majority of my life. I pray for God’s holy hand to take hold of my chin and lift it to heaven when I am tempted to linger on anything other than Christ alone. Thank God for graciously giving us warning lights on the dashboard of our hearts and for His perfect Owner’s Manual!

“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.  Isaiah 55:6-8

Idolatry, Insecurity, Pride, Sanctification, Self Righteousness, Submission, Surrender, Uncategorized, Works

Nothing but the Blood

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

No matter how many times I skim the surface of the water or how much debris is retrieved from the bottom, the pool is never perfectly clean.  It’s not the leaves or the bugs that elude the net but millions of microscopic particles that scatter throughout the water only to gather in mocking, dirt piles on the bottom of the pool.  This job clearly requires something outside my abilities.  In the same way, you and I can NEVER clean ourselves up to the point of purity.  It is a futile task to try to be “good enough” for God to accept us.

This was a lesson I learned the hard way many years ago when I was “doing” well in meeting my standards of the Christian life.  1. Read the bible everyday.  “Check!” 2. Pray for my family and for the lost.  “Check!”  3. Serve in ministry.  “Double check!”  I graded myself an A+ and anything in me that seemed subpar was, of course, someone else’s fault. In other words, after Jesus reached down into the murky waters of my sinful heart and cleansed me from all unrighteousness  I insisted on keeping my own heart pure by using the Christian to-do list.  It didn’t work.  Instead, microscopic particles of sin scattered into mocking piles of pride and self absorption.  Unnoticed because of the stealthiness of self-righteousness I survived for years without much conviction.

Lovingly, God led me to a discipleship class He knew I needed. During the second class there was a lesson on Performance.  It shed light on the error of using the patterns of this world (i.e. A good performance = a good person/reward; What I have and do defines me) and applying them to Christian living.  Being that it was my first time hearing this truth I had questions like:  Trying to earn the approval of God and others by doing the right thing is sin?   The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”    Jesus finished the work, He paid the price, and we are to live accordingly. Our identity comes from Jesus alone, not from anything we have done (good or bad) or will do in the future (good or bad) or from our family (good or bad) or from our past (good or bad).  Furthermore, trying to earn or deserve the “goodness” label is the opposite of  Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  and Romans 15:16 b: “I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.”    The difference is not in the outward appearance but in the motivation of the heart.  What I was doing was for self glorification, not for God’s glory and definitely not compelled by His love for me but by my love/hate relationship with myself.

Boy, did I have a revelation!  I would love to tell you that I fell to my knees in repentance when God revealed the idolatry of works within my heart.  In actuality, I was angry with God.  After all, I was an A+ christian, right?   Sadly, instead of running to God my pride kept me away from Him.  I stopped reading the bible, stopped praying and, in essence, gave God the silent treatment.   My heart was isolated and cold and Jesus’ warm, sacrificial love was unable to flow through the icy vessel of self. But God… Thank God for the precious blood of Christ!  David knew that only God could create in him a clean heart, purifying him from sin (Psalm 51).  The same is true today.  Only the Holy Spirit can make us holy as He is holy.

When I finally confessed what I believed in my heart – that His grace was not enough – the cross was not enough – the blood was not enough – that I was trying to add to what Jesus did – then the power of pride that dominated my life was broken.  Instead of unseen particles, the piles of dark sin were revealed and obliterated by adding the blood to the pool of my heart.  I still struggle with performing for the wrong reasons, finding myself wondering if it’s good enough, if I’m good enough.  That’s where God’s Word brings freedom when the enemy desires condemnation.  “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Romans 3:10 and Romans 8:1 “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Now I see that anything He calls me to do is for His glory.  It’s not about me! His burden is light because He does all the work!  He equips those He calls.  He gives rest when needed.  He is the power source.  I am already accepted to the fullest degree so there is nothing to earn even if I blow it.  His love is deeper and more complete than I could ever imagine and, in the Spirit, it compels me forward to good works because I get to, not because I have to! He is a living Savior and His blood covers all sin. No debris in my flesh is missed!  He will complete what He started.  So, the question now is, “What can wash away my sin?”

Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Nothing can my sin erase
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Naught of works, ’tis all of grace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

This is all my hope and peace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my righteousness—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

 

 

Anxiety, Control, Faith, Hope, Idolatry, Love, Trust, Uncategorized, Worry

Know Love

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  1John 3:1a

When our son started another 20+ hour road trip to Florida last Friday I was worried. Will he be okay driving by himself?  Will he get enough to eat?  What will the weather be like?  As questions like these swam through my mind I came to this conclusion: Most future details we cannot “know” for certain.  Unfortunately, it is usually these little unknowables that cause me to feel vulnerable and ignite worry in my heart.   I confess my preoccupation with the surety of future details regarding our grown children.  Even though they are both doing well it is difficult not to worry about them because I desperately want to keep them from experiencing pain whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional.

Because of this I’m convinced God providentially arranged for me to study the book of First John.   It happens to contain 37 accounts of the word Know and 41 of the word Love. Apparently, it was important to John to convey that we can know and love for certain in Christ.  He wanted believers to know God, love God and love each other.  In other words, to Know Love or to experience God’s benevolent love in an intimate way at all times.  This profound revelation means that trusting God in all things, abiding in His love, keeps me from being deceived and distracted.   (Yes, worry is the result of deception.)  Just like a branch is grafted into a vine I am intimately bound to Him or in Christ.  Therefore, I can have the mind of Christ; trusting God in all circumstances.  My thinking no longer has to stem from my fears but is now filtered through God’s love for me AND for my children.

Oh, how I wish God would promise that my children would always walk in the Light and know His love!  However, the real crux of my anxiety isn’t that our children won’t walk with the Lord but that they will somehow have to suffer because of a bad decision or because of circumstances outside their (or my) control.  In essence, I hate my inability to protect them from inevitable pain. This is why the last sentence in First John sends chills down my spine. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21.  How easily I turn from the light!  Just like a dumb sheep that wanders away from the shepherd who loves him, I too trot into the darkness of faithlessness and idolatry, putting my offspring on the throne of my heart.

Truthfully, I want all circumstances to be in my control. Fear and anxiety compel me to cry, “I want my way!”  But I KNOW perfect love drives out fear.  So what does that mean?  Am I not loved perfectly?  NO! God is love.  He cannot be imperfect.  God always loves perfectly. So why the fear?  Because I was not allowing His perfect love to control me (2 Corinthians 5:14).  I refused to walk in the light, abide in Him, nestle under His wing or stay near the Shepherd. Then, just like the lonely sheep, I was devoured by the wolf of insecurity and fear.  So, if perfect love drives out fear then willful rebellion invites it over for dinner.

Fortunately, as His rod touched my back I turned around and trotted  toward the Good Shepherd. I asked God to forgive me for not trusting Him.  With loving arms He nestled me close to His heart, assuring me of His everlasting affection.  With bended knee and a submissive will we are just the right size to be scooped up and held intimately close and know love.